Government is "bonkers" to wait for IPv6

10 Dec 2012
network cable in a knot

6UK IP advocacy group shuts down over lack of government action

The government's refusal to move to IPv6 is holding back the rest of the country, according to one campaigning group, which has shut down in protest.

The issue surrounds the move from the current IP protocol - version 4, which is running out of room - to version 6, or IPv6, which offers many more IP addresses.

To help spur the move, 6UK was set up with £20,000 of seed funding from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2010. Despite that initial support, the group has admitted failure, pinning the blame on the government refusing to roll out IPv6 itself.

In reaction, 6UK has taken the kamikaze act of shutting down, in the hopes of drawing attention to the issue. We've asked BIS for comment and a timetable for its IPv6 rollout, but have yet to hear back.

To find out more about why 6UK is shutting shop, we spoke to Philip Sheldrake, director - now former - of the advocacy group.

Q. We have to admit, we've never heard of you before today: what did 6UK aim to do?

There is one overarching factor that determines a country’s adoption of v6 – and that is a government’s support, not just in policy but in procurement

A. We’re a non-profit with £20,000 seed funding from BIS and we were formed to spread awareness of and increase adoption of the new internet protocol v6, to run alongside v4 until such time in ten or fifteen years’ time that we could then switch off v4. It’s been an inevitability for the last ten or fifteen years that v4 would run out – it has 4.3 billion addresses, but there are seven billion of us on the planet, so not even an IP address per person to go around.

It’s a foregone conclusion that it’s woefully inadequate to underpin the internet that’s emerging in 2012. That was our remit – we were a bunch of volunteers, who wanted to keep the UK abreast of IPv6 things happening around the world, and compare ourselves to where we find ourselves with our peers, and encourage, cajole, nudge people to get on the IPv6 bandwagon.

Q. But it hasn't worked out as you expected.

A. One of the things we've learned over the last two and a half years, and became increasingly apparent to us this year, is there is one overarching factor that determines a country’s adoption of v6 – and that is a government’s support, not just in policy but in procurement.

Q. Have you seen either of those from this government?

A. No, I think this government tended to have the opinion that v6 is important but that the market would sort it out for itself. Unfortunately... this is "market failure" – that’s what economists use to describe a situation where market dynamics alone are insufficient. Which is why countries like America are in the top quintile of adopters of v6 and the UK is in the bottom quintile.

Q. What are the Americans doing differently than the UK government?

A. One thing is they've mandated any technological procurement must be dual-stacked – that’s the jargon of running v4 and v6 concurrently. They’re not backwards compatible, so we do have to run the two together for a while. That’s just one of the ways in which the US [government] has US encouraged leadership in v6.

Q. Have any UK government departments made the switch?

A. No, not internally and not externally. By that I mean sometimes the first step is to make yourself visible over v6 to the rest of the world, and then there’s the internal infrastructure.

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